Everywhere you turn, it seems that there is a new tool available to help you sleep better. But how many of these devices and tools actually produce useful information and good results? A sleep expert at Baylor College of Medicine breaks it down.
“When you put it all together, I don’t see much in the recreational technology world that has yielded some amazing breakthrough in the world of sleep medicine,” said Dr. Philip Alapat, assistant professor of sleep medicine at Baylor. “However, from the medical practice aspect, the technology to test for obstructive sleep apnea at home is quite sound.”
Alapat says that while there are devices that claim to help determine amount of sleep, listen for snoring or determine the stages of sleep, the literature shows that there is variation in the ability of these devices to measure these metrics effectively.
“If you are generally someone who doesn’t move around very much during sleep and moves around a lot during wake time, then you’re more likely to get an accurate recording of your sleep amounts wearing one of these devices,” Alapat said.
When patients come into a sleep medicine clinic with data from these devices, it’s difficult to ascertain whether that information truly reflects their sleep times, he said.
Home sleep tests used by sleep experts determine whether the patient has difficulty breathing during sleeping and can help diagnose obstructive sleep apnea. However, to determine whether a patient is truly sleeping or awake at night and to further understand their stages of sleep, sleep experts require an in-lab sleep study where they can measure a patient’s brain waves using EEG recordings.
Helpful sleep tools
Alapat says there are some tools that he has seen benefit patients.
For individuals who are light sleepers and arouse with the slightest sound, white noise machines can be helpful in drowning out sounds that may otherwise have disturbed their sleep. White noise machines provide equal sound across the audible spectrum sounding like the noise from an untuned radio. Others may benefit from rain sounds or forest sounds as background noise when they sleep, but the inconsistent sound levels may contribute to disrupted sleep.
Waking alarms that gradually increase the amount of light in the bedroom can provide a more natural way for people to wake up.
“Light surrounding the waking environment is part of that stimulus to try to get you up and going, so if you can get a bright light that helps you wake up in the morning, that can be beneficial,” Alapat said.
However, if the bright light starts suddenly, the sudden arousal from sleep may be jarring. Consider utilizing a light source that gradually increases intensity over the span of 10 to 15 minutes.
“This may be a lot more conducive to the gradual awakening from sleep and perhaps may actually help you wake up and be more functional more quickly,” Alapat said.
Though there is not much data on whether weighted blankets are beneficial for sleep, some individuals say that the comfort they provide helps them sleep. Alapat says that some individuals with restless leg syndrome also have reported some benefits from weighted blankets because they feel the blanket can help alleviate some of the abnormal sensations in their limbs.
“If you feel comforted by it and it helps you develop a sense of calm, then it likely will be beneficial to your sleep,” he said.
Prepare for a good night’s sleep
When preparing to go to bed at night, Alapat also recommends reducing the amount of light in the bedroom to help with your circadian rhythm. This includes light from televisions, computers and phones. Many of these devices now have light filters that automatically reduce the amount of blue light in the evening, and those are less likely to impact your circadian rhythm.
At the end of the day, incorporating healthy sleep practices is the best way to get a good night’s sleep.
“Really anything that allows you to achieve a more relaxed state around bedtime is likely going to be of some benefit for you to fall asleep and stay asleep,” Alapat said. “If you’re already able to sleep and wake up without difficulty, you likely do not need any of these devices or tools.”
Alapat said to focus on maintaining a calm, cool, dark and quiet environment. Rather than being preoccupied with trying to record your sleep patterns, focus more on relaxation strategies instead.
“Those of us who do have trouble falling asleep need things to help us relax more before bedtime,” Alapat said. “It can be hard to shut the brain off. Anything that can help you disconnect from work and other responsibilities keeping your brain occupied can help you with your sleep quality.”
For diagnosis, evaluations, and treatments please visit Baylor Medicine Sleep Center.